Rebellyous Foods - which currently makes its products at a commissary kitchen - will move to a 10,000 sq ft full-scale manufacturing facility in West Seattle in October/November, which will ultimately be able to support a $3-5m business, said founder and CEO Christie Lagally, a former Boeing engineer who has raised $2.2m in angel investments, and is currently raising additional funds to support the firm’s rapid growth.
The products are currently supplied to healthcare institutions and corporate cafeterias at technology companies as well as select restaurants in the Pacific Northwest, but will be launching at a number of foodservice facilities nationwide by the end of the year as production ramps up at the new facility, said Lagally.
“We’ve been amazed by the response we’ve had so far and we’re also talking to a number of quick service restaurants about all of the different ways we can offer plant-based options that match with their specific menus.”
While plant-based chicken products have been available for some time from firms including Gardein and Quorn, price has been a major barrier in the high volume foodservice market, said Lagally, who is on a mission to “catapult meat alternative production toward price parity with animal-based meat.”
“Meatless nuggets used to be half as delicious and twice as expensive as chicken. At Rebellyous, our mission is to flip the script and make plant-based meat that is better than animal meat in every way, from price and convenience to taste and nutrition.”
Christie Lagally, founder and CEO, Rebellyous
More fiber, more protein, less sodium and saturated fat
While next-gen plant-based meat companies Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have spent a lot on branding, Lagally is targeting high-volume foodservice accounts with a white label approach, and asking customers to answer a simple question: If there’s a plant-based alternative that looks the same, cooks the same, and costs the same as chicken nuggets, and it’s better for your health and the environment, why wouldn’t you buy it?
For its first product – chicken nuggets with nearly three times the fiber, 40% less saturated fat and sodium, and 20-30% more protein than regular chicken nuggets - Rebellyous is using textured wheat protein, soy protein, canola oil, vegan chicken flavor, spices, corn, and wheat breading. Its nuggets also cook more quickly than regular chicken nuggets, and have fewer ingredients than most products in the plant-based meat space, said Lagally.
“We have one of the shortest labels in the plant-based [meat] category.”
“We’ve been commercially manufacturing plant-based meat replacements for more than a hundred years but the industry as a whole still lacks scale and efficiency,” added Lagally, who spoke at FoodNavigator-USA’s FOOD FOR KIDS summit in Chicago last year.
“We’re designing the machinery and associated facilities to produce these products at scale," she told delegates. "Plant-based meat chicken products for whatever reason have not achieved the price points people are looking for.
"While plant-based meat is growing in double digits at retail it only accounts for 0.1% of animal based meat by volume in the US, and most schools and hospitals don't have access to affordable alternatives as they can cost two to five times more.”
She added: "As we scale, we absolutely will be able to offer them at less than the price of animal-based chicken nuggets.”
Products have to deliver in a foodservice environment
What makes Rebellyous products special “is the production process [rather than the ingredients],” said Lagally: “It’s how we process the protein ... and how we keep the air out of it to create a really dense product that releases juice, not air, when you cook it.
“By redesigning the manufacturing process, we are getting much closer to chicken than what’s on the market today. We’re also thinking about usability and trying to understand how our products would be used in foodservice. A lot of foodservice companies don’t used plant based products because they come in tiny boxes, they don’t cook the same in the usual oven, they don’t cook at the same rate, and those things are really important.”
From a texture perspective, she said: “Our products have a really dense texture very like a whole chicken breast, because we use a special chopping process that ensures we don’t get a foamy product, which you often get in plant-based products which can get a lot of air in there or not enough water, which can make them dry. Our nuggets actually plump when you cook them and release a lot of juices and flavor.”
What’s in a name?
Asked about the name change, VP business development Kristie Middleton said: “We wanted a name that better reflected who we are and what we're doing. Our food system is broken. We produce 105 billion pounds of chicken globally annually and it's a travesty for the environment, workers, and animals.
“We can only change this if we move towards more delicious, affordable, plant-based foods. In other words, we need to get a little Rebellyous.”
In 2017, the American Medical Association urged all hospitals to remove processed meats including chicken nuggets from all of their menus as well as sugary drinks.
“Processed meat products are known carcinogens, so we are offering a ready-made solution for hospitals to just switch over to another ready-to-eat alternative right off the bat,” said Rebellyous founder Christie Lagally.
Schools and colleges are also interested in more plant-based proteins, in part because more students are vegans and vegetarians, and if you can offer a product that tastes and performs as well as meat and costs the same, and doesn't involve antibiotics, it’s not a huge leap of faith to make the switch, she said.
“A lot of universities have targets for reducing carbon emissions and some foodservice agencies are telling them that reducing meat consumption is one way to do it.”